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 The Theatreguide.London Review

A New Way to Please You
Trafalgar Studios December 2005

This virtually unknown (by which I mean I never heard of it) satire by Shakespeare's contemporaries Middleton and Rowley kicks off the RSC's political drama season transferred from Stratford. And while it may never rise much above the level of an historical curiosity, it is an enjoyable one.

When a law is passed ordering the executions of all men at age eighty and all women at sixty, on the grounds that they have outlived their usefulness to society, the younger populace reacts in varying ways.

Some young men eagerly turn their fathers in, impatient for their inheritances, while one noble and loving son hides his father from the authorities.

Another old man dyes his hair and tries to pass for forty, while his young wife begins auditioning for his replacement. While one man bribes the registrar to increase his wife's age so he can start looking for a younger second, other men search out 59-year-old rich women as short-term investments.

The satire is sharp, and the contrasts between the good, the ugly and the merely comical well developed. Director Sean Holmes puts it all in modern dress and interpolates a lot of anachronistic shtick  (That guy trying to look younger does some disco dancing, for example) that doesn't clash at all, as it's fully in the spirit of the original that must have incorporated the early-seventeenth-century equivalents.

One criticism of the direction is that it hasn't adapted to the rather awkwardly vertical Trafalgar Studio playing space, and only those in the first few rows are likely to the faces of actors who seem oddly determined never to look upward.

(This is particularly odd, since the show transfers from Stratford's Swan Theatre, where the playing is always upward.)

And the only serious criticism to make of the play itself, other than its ultimate triviality (which is not really a flaw) is that the more noble characters are stuck making rather boringly noble speeches at each other while everything around them is so much more lively.

Jonjo O'Neill as the most dastardly of the avaricious sons, Matt Ryan as the good son, Miranda Colchester as the impatient young wife and Peter de Jersey as the Duke with a hidden agenda to his lawmaking are all first-rate.

Like the rest of the RSC's winter London season, this play is only on for a couple of weeks, and it would be a shame to let the fact that it's not a familiar title keep you from the fun of seeing it. But sit up close.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  A New Way To Please You - RSC at Trafalgar Studios 2005
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